Die trying, p.28
"HIS NAME IS Jackson," Webster said.
"How long has he been in there?" Milosevic asked.
"Nearly a year," Webster said.
Eleven o'clock in the morning, Thursday July third, inside Peterson. The section head at Quantico was faxing material over from Andrews down the Air Force's own secure fax network as fast as the machines could handle it. Milosevic and Brogan were pulling it off the machines and passing it to Webster and McGrath for analysis. On the other side of the table, General Johnson and his aide were scanning a map of the northwest corner of Montana.
"You got people undercover in all these groups?" Johnson asked.
Webster shook his head and smiled.
"Not all of them," he said. "Too many groups, not enough people. I think we just got lucky. "
"I didn't know we had people in this one," Brogan said.
Webster was still smiling.
"Lots of things lots of people don't know," he said. "Safer that way, right?"
"So what is this Jackson guy saying?" Brogan asked.
"Does he mention Holly?" Johnson asked.
"Does he mention what the hell this is all about?" Milosevic asked.
Webster blew out his cheeks and waved his hand at the stack of curling fax paper. McGrath was busy sifting through it. He was separating the papers into two piles. One pile for routine stuff, the other pile for important intelligence. The routine pile was bigger. The important intelligence was sketchy.
"Analysis, Mack?" Webster said.
"Up to a point, pretty much normal," he said.
Johnson stared at him.
"Normal?" he said.
"This is normal," he said. "We got these militia groups all over the country, which is why we can't cover them all. Too damn many. Our last count was way over four hundred groups, all fifty states. Most of them are just amateur wackos, but some of them we consider pretty serious antigovernment terrorists. "
"This bunch?" Johnson asked.
McGrath looked at him.
"This bunch is totally serious," he said. "One hundred people, hidden out in the forest. Very well armed, very well organized, very self-contained. Very well funded, too. Jackson has reported mail fraud, phony bank drafts, a little low-grade counterfeiting. Probably armed robbery as well. The feeling is they stole twenty million bucks in bearer bonds, armored car heist up in the north of California. And, of course, they're selling videos and books and manuals to the rest of the wackos, mail order. Big boom industry right now. And naturally they decline to pay income tax or license their vehicles or anything else that might cost them anything. "
"Effectively, they control Yorke County," Webster said.
"How is that possible?" Johnson asked.
"Because nobody else does," Webster said. "You ever been up there? I haven't. Jackson says the whole place is abandoned. Everything pulled out, a long time ago. He says there's just a couple dozen citizens still around, spread out over miles of empty territory, bankrupt ranchers, leftover miners, old folk. No effective county government. Borken just eased his way in and took it over. "
"He's calling it an experiment," McGrath said. "A prototype for a brand-new nation. "
Johnson nodded, blankly.
"But what about Holly?" he said.
Webster stacked the paper and laid his hand on it.
"He doesn't mention her," he said. "His last call was Monday, the day she was grabbed up. They were building a prison. We have to assume it was for her. "
"This guy calls in?" Brogan said. "By radio?"
"He's got a transmitter concealed in the forest," he said. "He wanders off when he can, calls in. That's why it's all so erratic. He's been averaging one call a week. He's pretty inexperienced and he's been told to be cautious. We assume he's under surveillance. Brave new world up there, that's for damn sure. "
"Can we call him?" Milosevic asked.
"You're kidding," Webster said. "We just sit and wait. "
"Who does he report to?" Brogan asked.
"Resident Agent at Butte," Webster said.
"So what do we do?" Johnson asked.
Webster shrugged. The room went quiet.
"Right now, nothing," he said. "We need a position. "
The room stayed quiet and Webster just looked hard at Johnson. It was a look between one government man and another and it said: you know how it is. Johnson stared back for a long time, expressionless. Then his head moved through a fractional nod. Just enough to say: for the moment, I know how it is.
Johnson's aide coughed into the silence.
"We've got missiles north of Yorke," he said. "They're moving south right now, on their way back here. Twenty grunts, a hundred Stingers, five trucks. They'll be heading straight through Yorke, anytime now. Can we use them?"
Brogan shook his head.
"Against the law," he said. "Military can't participate in law enforcement. "
Webster ignored him and glanced at Johnson and waited. They were his men, and Holly was his daughter. The answer was better coming straight from him. There was a silence, and then Johnson shook his head.
"No," he said. "We need time to plan. "
The aide spread his hands wide.
"We can plan," he said. "We've got radio contact, ground-to-ground. We should go for it, General. "
"Against the law," Brogan said again.
Johnson made no reply. He was thinking hard. McGrath riffled through the pile of papers and pulled the sheet about the dynamite packing Holly's prison walls. He held it facedown on the shiny table. But Johnson shook his head again.
"No," he said again. "Twenty men against a hundred? They're not frontline troops. They're not infantry. And their Stingers won't help us. I assume these terrorists don't have an air force, right? No, we wait. Bring the missile unit right back here, fastest. No engagement. "
The aide shrugged and McGrath slipped the dynamite report back into the pile. Webster looked around and slapped both palms lightly on the tabletop.
"I'm going back to D. C. ," he said. "Got to get a position. "
Johnson shrugged his shoulders. He knew nothing could start without a trip back to D. C. to get a position. Webster turned to McGrath.
"You three move up to Butte," he said. "Get settled in the office there. If this guy Jackson calls, put him on maximum alert. "
"We can chopper you up there," the aide said.
"And we need surveillance," Webster said. "Can you get the Air Force to put some camera planes over Yorke?"
"They'll be there," he said. "Twenty-four hours a day. We'll give you a live video feed into Butte. A rat farts, you'll see it. "
"No intervention," Webster said. "Not yet. "
by Lee Child / Literature & Fiction / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on86 votes